Western Living Magazine
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Introducing Western Living’s 2023 Designers of the Year Award Winners
WL Architectural Designer of the Year 2023: SMStudio
He takes on every landscape design with the eye of an architectand the heart of an artist.
Take every left-hand turn you can take, and you'll end up here, says architect James Tuer. Our Landscape Designer of the Year is describing how to get to his latest projecta whimsical, sprawling compound that he describes as a once in a lifetime job, complete with a freestanding library and an orangery (home to an indoor orange tree)but he could very well be talking about his own design career. It hasnt been a straight path for Tuer (who previously won Eco Designer of the Year back in 2015). But he got somewhere fantastical all the same.
Tuer studied landscape architecture at the University of Guelph in the '80s, and got his start designing ski resorts. It was creating the village at Sun Peaks that inspired him to go back to school to get his architecture degree. Hopping between projects big and smallhis own home on Bowen Island, the park at the Sea to Sky Gondolahe realized at a certain point that he didnt have to choose between the two career paths, architecture or landscape. One informed the other, a beautiful loop of inspiration, the line between indoors and outdoors forever blurred.
The uniting factor on all of the projects he undertakes with his firm JWT Architecturewhether garden or courtyard or buildingis an unwavering celebration of a sense of place. there'san idea of genius loci, says Tuer. I try to share a landscape with the building, and share the building with the landscape. I like to bring out the best in the site.
One literal example: the sloping courtyard of that once-in-a-lifetime project (dubbed Seven Buildings) features intentionally exposed raw bedrock, wet daily by concealed sprinklers to highlight the gorgeous colour of the natural stone. Tuer also works closely with Nat's Nursery for all of his plantings to ensure everything is native and water-smarthis preferred palette includes ornamental grasses, Japanese maples and sedges.
But don't confuse regionalism with being provincial. The Pacific Northwest has a wide context of influence in and of itself: Asian culture, the Arts and Crafts architecture movement of the 1920s, Greene and Greene's homes in Southern California and, of course, the natural landscape. Tuer finds inspiration in all of it, and beyond. On three of the structures for the Seven Buildings project, Tuer has installed a sky garden, inspired by the rooftop terraces of Morocco. The undulating surface is covered with sedum, in a rainbow of natural hues. You have blue greens, red, reddish greens… you get to play as an artist and a painter.
Tuer is here to collaborate, not conquer, with an approach that impressed our judging panel. Materials and planting work together and complement each other to create new places that still feel like a part of the landscapes theyre inhabiting, commented judge Grant Stewart, principal at Seattle landscape architecture firm Gustafson Guthrie Nichol. In his projects, topography is acknowledged and welcomed.
When his projects include both architecture and landscape, that sense of welcome is magnified. Operable walls, terraces and decks a-plenty bring the outdoors in, and even when you've within a home's four walls, windows are placed to frame the viewof the garden, of Garibaldi's peak, of Texada Islandjust so. It's almost like cinematography, or a painting, says Tuer. A way of framing nature from many different vantage points.
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